Sam0fc's Blog

The ramblings of a slightly insane student.

Motivation, Stress, Curse of Strahd and Dismissing Thoughts

I dissappeared from the internet for a bit, focusing on exams (not very well), and I finally have reached the point where I'm bored enough to actually write another one of these posts. That's a weird feeling though, boredom. Despite somehow having so much that I could do, there's nothing that I want to do. I've spent a lot of time in the past few days playing video games, watching TV shows and YouTube videos that are fun! I have been enjoying myself! But eventually it gets boring, and there's always that nagging feeling that I'm wasting time.

Part of me knows that I deserve a little bit of a break, but another part of me wants to get on with doing things! If I could scrounge together the motivation, I could start a really exciting thing that I've been looking forward to for years. But know that it's within arms' reach, I have not been able to pick up the phone and make the one phone call that will set the whole thing in motion.

There's another thing which is keeping me from doing much as well; it's a crippling fear of failure. My exam results don't come out for another few days; if I haven't done well enough, I won't be returning to this uni. That's pretty fucking scary. It feels a bit like I've been twiddling my thumbs waiting for the doctor to tell me whether I live or die. And I know I should have a plan B but I don't. This university is the first place I've actually been happy with myself and if that goes away after just one year I don't know what I'll do. I'm sure it'll be fine, but it's just the worry; the consequences are far too high. I mean if anything this is motivation to do better next year, but it's just too frightening to properly think about in the mean time.

To completely change the subject in it's entirety to avoid having to think about that at all: I've been starting to run a Curse of Strahd campaign! Dungeons and Dragons! It seems like everyone and their dog have played CoS, but I've never tried it; and a lot of my DMing has been in homebrew settings 1, which are somewhat less daunting. It's freeing to know that whatever bullshit you come up with is exactly how it is, and has always been. Playing in Ravenloft means that 1. I need to have a better understanding of all the connections beforehand, and that 2. I need to be confident enough that I'm not messign things up by changing or adding story beats.

One of my weaknesses while playing D&D and especially as a DM, is making likeable characters; which is quite a big problem, and I'm hoping inhabiting some of the better characters2 will let me really find out what it is that helps a party latch to an NPC. I do sometimes worry whether it is genuinely a problem of me being unlikable, but given that I have people around the table, I try to quickly dismiss that thought.

That's become a bit of a theme to this post, dismissing thoughts. It is quite an interesting one too, because it is so hard to do. Sometimes keeping yourself busy helps, but when you're not busy, or don't want to be, it becomes significantly more difficult. I've joked a lot recently that "I'm not sentient"3, and I think there is an aspect to that which is this: I'm trying not to have too deep thoughts, because I'm a little afraid at what self-reflection will do to me. I'm just trying to enjoy it as it is.


Posted 2022-07-05 (at ~11:55 Local Time)
While listening to the Nerd3 Podcats
  1. See Limina
  2. i.e. Ezmerelda l'Avenir, Ireena Kolyana, Rictavio etc.
  3. Which I honestly don't believe anyone is; I don't believe in the soul, so unless you think our thoughts influence quantum phenomena, I don't see where we are able to change our minds in any physical or chemical way. So QED, free will is an illusion, we love to see it!

Firefly & The American Civil War

Here's some things I want to get out of my head about Firefly. I like the show - as do a lot of people. I think it was well written and funny, had depth and characterisation, and a super interesting world.1 However:

There's a lot of problematic things about it, and I want to work through them and make sure I'm properly addressing them, both so I can understand whether some of those issues are also present in myself, and also so that I can explore the extent to which Whedon's ideology is dangerous or offputting.

First, there's the idea of the browncoats as an allegory for confederate soldiers. Whedon has confirmed that the inspiration came from an american civil war book. Mal and Zoe are on the losing side of a civil war between a centralised alliance2 and a more "pro states-rights" pro-individualist freedom side. They are the representation of the "free" American entrepreneur, living away from the law, just trying to make profit. This is straying into a larger point that I think I'd like to save for some later date about the politics that Firefly presents, but for now, I think it's been made clear that Mal & Zoe are something alike to the disgraced confederates coming back after the American Civil War.

While it might be easy to say something to the tune of "well just because it's a rebellion doesn't mean it is the confederacy", I don't think that quite covers it, especially when it is still a wide-spread3 belief in many parts of the US that the confederacy were the pro-freedom good guys, trying to avoid the oppression of the union". I think it does play into that very uncomfortable narrative of sanitising the crimes of the confederacy to prop up that freedom argument.

Now do I think that the confederacy and the browncoats are the same thing? Obviously not. I mean notably, slavery is absent. And while if you interpret it as a direct parallel to the civil war, then of course this does seem like a way of cleansing that narrative. However, taken alone, there's nothing necessarily bad about framing a show through the lens of a losing/lost rebellion. This attempt at reconstruction that's going on is an interesting dynamic to explore, but a lot of the old-timey america imagery, combined with the very confederate archetype that Mal embodies definitely seems like more could have been done to explicitly denounce those influences. Mal really is the platonic ideal of the free Southern man; he has an enterprise, he makes money, and he resents the overbearing government that might prevent him from making money.

Again though, being anti-government doesn't make you a fan of the US confederacy4. It just seems that Whedon might be evoking that imagery and archetype in the American consciousness without loudly and explicitly denouncing the abhorrent political views with which those images are intrinsically linked.

and at some point when i get round to it, I'll dump my thoughts on the problems with Whedon's odd libertarian ideology in firefly, its treatment of women especially Inara- there is a lot to talk about there, and the tokenisation and appropriation w/o representation of chinese (and more generally east asian) culture.


Posted 2022-05-28 (at ~22:20 Local Time)
Adapted from a set of my random discord messages
  1. Which, by the way, definitely needs to be explored more. The problem with Firefly being cancelled and then Serenity being made was that while it did wrap up the loose-ends that were left open, it means that anything else made with that crew feels like messing up something that's already done. The universe of Firefly though, had loads of areas with no development, especially culturally on the inner planets, and is ripe for another piece of media. I haven't yet read the books, so maybe I ought to.
  2. You could even say some sort of Union? Maybe?
  3. And depressingly, widely-taught
  4. Woah it's me!

Friendships are Odd

I feel this one may need some sort of preface addressing the people I know IRL that are going to read this. Unfortunately I do not plan on giving such a thing. So if you know me, well don't take anything in here too personally.

The amount of relationships that we try to maintain is incredible. Think of the friends who text you once in a while, responding to an instagram story, sending you a meme; or even the ones you've never contacted outside of a group but you still wave at them as you pass them on the street. It feels good to have lots of people who like you. I mean, who doesn't want to be liked? Though I think it might be important to consider how many of those relationships are meaningful. I think I can count on one hand the number of people I properly trust, but people I know, people I claim to be friends with, I'm sure I have at least a hundred.

And there are degrees of friendship too. There are people I've met once and spent a very enjoyable few hours with but haven't talked to again, there are those people who have spent hundreds of hours with me in a group, lectures, classes or other sort of activity, who I get on with well enough when I'm there, but I couldn't imagine seeing them outside of that, there's the sorts you used to know much better than you do now, and the sorts that you know very well but slightly concern you enough that you're don't 100% trust them. Then there are your real close freinds the sort of people to whom you could tell anything. And it's amazing.

Maybe that's something that isn't considered enough. Having friends with whom you can consistently joke and laugh, with whom you can completely be yourself, openly and completely, with whom you can have fun without even trying. That's a beautiful thing.

Though to return to the thing that I actually wanted to say; it's weird how you make friends. One of the things that I've had to do quite frequently is make a new set of friends in a new place; and this doesn't just apply to physical places: online communities, in-person groups, and essentially any thing that causes you to meet new people seems to operate in a similar way. First, you sit next to someone on your first day. They say a few words about how they're excited that you're new here, or that this is about to start1. They're pleasant enough, and sometimes you even have a few shared interests. You don't think you'd naturally be drawn to them, but they make for decent enough conversation, even if you're not always on the same page.

Then later, you find a proper group. Some conversation or activity will come up that links you to people with very similar interests or a similar world-view, and that means you meet people you gel with you much better. They might just know about the same sorts of media, play the same games, etc. etc. or it might be something more fundamental than that; it could be a different world-view. In some cases, it's just that they don't judge you for being yourself. Certain people have a very strong definition of what acting "proper" is, and at least for me, with a friend, I need to be able to be a bit wild and improper.

That second group, those that find you and appreciate you for your interests and yourself; those are the group that you're likely to stick with, and the ones who will become the closest. In finding those, however, you sometimes spot someone that you think would make a great friend; from the things they say or do, even if they barely know you exist.23 something that perhaps should be recognised, is that no amount of latching on to someone, following them around or going to the same events as they do is going to make them be your friend. For myself at least, the most valuable quality in a friend is that I can have open conversations with them, and that I can have fun with them without being judged. If either 1. you change yourself to try and make them your friend, you can never achieve the first, or if 2. you do go round and attach yourself to their groups, then you will be judged for that fact. Even leaving the creepiness of such "latching" aside, it just logically doesn't work.

I think the majority of advice when it comes to getting along with people can basically be boiled down to one thing. Find something you can do together. That can be conversations about a certain topic, but equally it can be a sport, a game, or any combination of the other things. Just find something where you can be together, and not get bored. Once in a while a person comes along with whom you can be completely silent and doing nothing, but still enjoying their presence, and when that does happen, hold fast to that person, because they are something special.


Posted 2022-05-28 (at ~02:25 Local Time)
After returning from a night out with the Science Fiction & Fantasy Society
  1. For whatever definition of this is applicable in your current situation.
  2. As a side note, this is I think the real definition of cool: if someone sees you. or hears you speak and gets the impression that they'd like to be your friend or know you better.
  3. I would also love here to help you distinguish between romantic and platonic feelings, but I have no idea.

This isn't twitter...

and that's a good thing. I've had a few blogs before, (though obviously very cringe ones!), but the thing that finally prompted me into setting this up was this Tom Scott1 video; it was mentioned that Tom of the past didn't even consider how centralised the internet would become. Nowadays it seems almost a relic of the past that people would have their own websites. Things are on Discord, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, TikTok, and that's about it.

There's that running joke online that all content just gets reposted as lower quality jpeg screenshots ad nauseam,2 which is is not entirely incorrect. It seems almost obvious that this stems from the incentive towards monopoly - it might be slightly early in the life of this blog (paragraph 2!) to go into the failing of capitalism - but needless to say, as the internet became much more mainstream, and corporations rushed to capitalise on it, it was much more profitable to attempt to co-opt people into one platform at a time, and use all incentives to keep them on there. YouTube for example, discourages videos that significantly direct people off-platform. They don't want to be part of the wide free web, they want their platform to be the only thing you interact with.

I am, of course, also guilty of this; TikTok, Discord, YouTube and Twitter are (in that order) by far the majority of the non-work related websites I access. They do make it convenient to talk to your friends, or watch content that you expect; they have the wide user-base and money that allows them to do so. I mean it is clear that the average "creator" doesn't start with enough capital, technical knowledge and/or media presence to make a name for themself off of these platforms. I recall a phrase from somewhere: "It would be prohibitively expensive to host as much high quality video as YouTube, unless you also happen to run the largest advertising company in the world." Of course, this is exactly what Google does. They make it possible to have the era of the individual creator, at the expense of the data, time, and unpaid labour of millions.

Let me expand slightly on that last point: Yes, creators do make money. The ones that have the influence to. Maybe not clear to all, but to anyone immersed in this new internet culture, the concept of "making a living" from being an influencer is no trivial detail. Some money can come from the service on which the content is hosted; the YouTube ad revenue or the TikTok creator fund do exist, after all, but it seems that even the larger producers of content have to take sponsorships, promote their Patreons,3 and do merch or other sales. For the vast majority of "content" produced in the modern day, whether this be something "advertiser unfriendly" or just coming from one of the innumberable people who don't have the requisite large amount of followers to make money, that work simply does not pay the creator.

In a very real sense, the work of millions of people is exploited by these big tech companies, that rely on that steady stream of content for the continued survival of their services. My friends don't get paid to make a post on Instagram, but the only reason that Instagram can exist is because I spend my time scrolling past advertising that subliminally convinces me to buy a metal wallhanging4. There is the obvious response to this that "this content wouldn't exist without this platform", which seems reasonable to begin with, but on the slightest further examination completely falls apart.

People put creative energy into things other than social media platforms. That's a wild idea isn't it. The people who take a photo to post it on Instagram could always have posted it to their friends, put it on their fridge for people to see when they come round, or more recently, put them on their blog, sent it to a large email list or done literally anything else. Instagram did not invent the photograph, YouTube did not invent the video, Twitter did not invent short format text, yet somehow people link any post on any of these intrinsically to the platform on which it is shared.

To actually return from the general ramblings to my issue with this: the problem is that the public square, the noticeboard in the frontier town of the internet has been bought. Private companies now have the power to control the public discourse in a way that infinitely limits the amount of creativity and freedom that the average person can express. Now one of the very few ways to get eyes on things that you make is to present those things on the stage owned by others.

The internet had immense potential. It seemed to provide some level of equality,5 the blogosphere distributing opinions and thoughts to millions of different formats and identities, from each person's own site of their own creation in their own format. It might seem naive to think that this could be stable, but I firmly believe that with better education and tools that were not liable to the capitalist incentives; i.e. a variety of search engines that could lead you to smaller sites, we could at least try to make the internet a more open and more free place, rather than it all being at the behest of a few companies. Even aside from that noble goal of free internet, I just think it's more interesting when the internet is more diverse, and not just an increasingly jpeggified group of screenshots.

So, this is my small corner of the internet! Welcome! I hope I'm adding to that sort of fun diversity that only the internet can provide :)


Posted 2022-05-26 (at ~21:40 Local Time)
While listening to Various LinusTechTips Videos & Critical Role C1E11
  1. Yes, I know, referencing a big YouTube person in a post about web freedom, bit cringe. If you haven't heard of him or his stuff, do check it out. He's got funny and good informative content. A bit sanitised maybe and very rarely explicitly political.
  2. Like this: [sam remember to add the image you're thinking of later]
  3. I actually much prefer Patreon as a way of compensating creators and artists, but that is entirely a topic for another time. Funding the artist instead of paying for the work, not only means that we don't have to as strongly protect the copyright of the work once created, (attribution being the only neccessary part), but also more directly contradicts the effects of alienation; you think directly about the producer to whom you're giving your money. Clearly this footnote cannot contain a complete theory of a post-copyright world, so I will return to actually writing the post now!
  4. Clearly the masculine equivalent of those huge geometric pattern tapestries that seem to be in every femme person's room
  5. I recognise here that I am speaking from a position of privilege, on the right side of the digitial divide. Nonetheless, with equitable access to the internet, communication becomes possible between anyone, everyone. Knowledge can be shared in a way that doesn't priorities locations with power.